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“The Electoral Landscape Has Shifted”: Republicans May Finally Pay A Price For Towing NRA Line On Guns

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who led an unusual talking filibuster this week to promote Democratic measures on guns, now wants to take the issue to the ballot box.  Here’s what he told Roll Call in an article published today:

“There has to be a storyline coming out of 2016 that shows that senators that voted against consensus measures like mandatory background checks pay a political price.”

Which sounds like standard political rhetoric — everyone says that the public will rise up and support them on their issues. But the crazy thing is, he might be right.

I don’t say this lightly — I’ve been writing about the gun issue for years, and though I’ve long argued that the the NRA’s power to punish its enemies and reward its friends at the ballot box is a myth, it’s extremely rare for Republicans to actually lose elections because of the gun issue. But a confluence of events and critical timing could make 2016 different. Most surprising of all, there’s even a remote but real possibility that Congress could pass a gun control measure in 2017.

In the wake of the shooting in Orlando, Democrats are now pushing two separate ideas, both of which have failed to make it through Congress before. The first would make it easier for the federal government to stop gun sales to those who have been investigated for terrorism, which we’re going to put aside for the moment. The second proposal is universal background checks, which would extend those checks to private sales that today don’t require them, closing the “private seller loophole.”

It’s long been a source of wonder that in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre when 20 elementary school children were gunned down, and with polls showing support for the measure running at 90 percent (including huge majorities of gun owners), Congress still couldn’t pass universal background checks. If it didn’t happen then, why could it happen now? The answer is that timing is everything.

The Sandy Hook massacre took place in December of 2012. When Congress began to debate the Manchin-Toomey bill that included background checks, it was 2013. The election to which lawmakers were looking forward was the 2014 off-year election. Everyone knew that, with a Democratic president, it was going to be another big year for Republicans, since their voters are more likely to turn out in non-presidential years than Democratic voters are. So one of the big questions was how vulnerable Democrats from Republican-leaning states, who had been elected in the 2008 Obama wave, were going to vote.

In the end, the bill had a 54-46 majority, not enough to overcome the Republicans’ filibuster. Among the Democrats who voted for it were Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, both of whom lost their re-election bids that November. Four Democrats opposed it: the retiring Max Baucus, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota. Begich and Pryor lost that year, too, while Heitkamp isn’t up for reelection until 2018. And on the Republican side, only Pat Toomey (the bill’s co-sponsor), John McCain, Susan Collins, and Mark Kirk voted in favor.

It’s unclear exactly how much of an impact their votes had on the campaigns of Hagan, Landrieu, Begich, and Pryor. But you can bet that facing an electorate they knew was going to be stacked against them, the vote weighed on their minds.

Now let’s think about the current environment. The senators up for re-election this year came into office in the tea party wave of 2010, which is why Republicans are defending many more seats than Democrats. The most vulnerable Republicans are those from Democratic-leaning states, who now have to face a presidential-year electorate that will be much more tilted to Democratic voters than it was when they got elected the first time. They’ll also be carrying the weight of their party’s presidential nominee behind them.

Those vulnerable senators are the following, in rough order of how likely they already are to lose in November: Mark Kirk (IL), Ron Johnson (WI), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Rob Portman (OH), and Pat Toomey (PA). If Marco Rubio decides to run again, you can put him in there too. Ayotte, Johnson, and Portman all voted against the Manchin-Toomey bill in 2013. Do you think their Democratic opponents are going to make an issue out of that? Oh yes they will.

In fact, even before Orlando, Ayotte was running ads claiming to be a background check supporter, when what she actually backed was an NRA-approved alternative to Manchin-Toomey, one that was about as meaningful as you’d expect. Portman now says he’s open to restricting sales to people probed for terrorism, but his campaign web site goes on in some length about his opposition to universal background checks. Johnson has suggested there might be a possible compromise on gun sales and the terror watch list, but he hasn’t changed his position on background checks, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Democrats to criticize him on that. Kirk is almost certain to lose anyway.

And Pat Toomey? Well, if Toomey does survive when other Republicans lose, many people will say that his high-profile advocacy for background checks was an important reason. If you combine that with defeats of other Republicans, you could see an entirely new conventional wisdom take shape, one that says that the electoral landscape on guns has shifted. Now it’s Republicans who are on the defensive, because of their doctrinaire opposition to even measures that nine out of ten Americans support.

There is a scenario in which even the NRA’s lock on Congress — which, unlike their alleged electoral potency, is real — could be broken. It’s possible (even if it’s a longshot) that the Democrats could take control of the House in an anti-Trump sweep to go with their (much more likely) win in the Senate. Passing something like background checks would require overcoming a filibuster, which is not likely at all. But it’s also possible that, in the face of broad and increasingly maddening filibuster abuse, Democrats could decide to get rid of the procedure altogether. That would be a momentous move, but it isn’t out of the question. And if they did, they could pass a background check bill for President Hillary Clinton to sign.

Yes, a lot of pieces would have to fall into place for that to happen. But even if it doesn’t, chances are we’ll come out of this election with a bunch of senators having paid a price for their alliance with the NRA, and everyone will know it. That in itself would be a major change.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 17, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Background Checks, Gun Control, National Rifle Association, Senate Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Congress Complicit In Mass Murders”: Why Not Do The Right Thing”?: Renewed Gun Control Push Targets Firearm Dealers

Faced with little appetite in the US Congress to strengthen federal gun laws, a group of senators on Tuesday called on firearm dealers to help reduce the scourge of gun violence in America by performing more robust background checks, even when it’s not required by the law.

Their mantra: “No background check, no gun.”

Connecticut senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, along with 11 of their Democratic colleagues, sent a letter urging three large firearms dealers – Cabela’s, EZ Pawn and Bass Pro Shops – to stop allowing for “default sales” and refuse to sell guns without a completed background check. Current federal law includes a loophole that allows gun dealers to complete a sale without any background check, if the check takes longer than 72 hours.

Blumenthal and Murphy also made their case at a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, where they were joined by New York senator Chuck Schumer, the chamber’s second-ranking Democrat, and relatives who lost loved ones to gun violence. The senators cited the national retailer Walmart as an example of a company that took steps to toughen its requirements for gun transactions.

“For the gun dealers of America, why not do the right thing? Insist that there be a background check before you sell the gun,” Blumenthal said, while also encouraging a ban on illegal trafficking and straw purchases, steps to address mental health, and the enhancement of school safety.

Murphy said there was “absolutely no justification” for retailers not to follow Walmart’s lead, arguing that it caused “no inconvenience to the retailer” to perform safer background checks to ensure that criminals or mentally ill people do not walk out of their stores with a gun.

“The temporary inconvenience to a smidgen of gun purchases is certainly worth the lives that we know we could have saved or can save in the future if retailers make this change,” Murphy said.

For Blumenthal and Murphy, the push on firearm dealers is the latest in a two-year effort to confront gun violence – which personally impacted their constituents in the 2012 elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Both senators acknowledged it had been a tough road ever since. The US Senate failed to pass universal background checks in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, which took the lives of 20 children and six educators.

“We were there to see the cries and faces that expressed that grief. We know that we will never be the same because of that experience,” Blumenthal said. “We should take heart that this struggle, this battle, is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Despite a series of high-profile mass shootings since Newtown, Congress hasn’t budged on any proposals to improve America’s gun laws.

Murphy said the lack of even a debate on the issue was “an abomination” while acknowledging that the National Rifle Association had for decades built “one of the most politically powerful forces in the country” and, at least for now, maintained the upper-hand.

Although Murphy said he and Blumenthal would continue to press upon “the consciousness of our colleagues”, Republicans who control both chambers of Congress have shown little indication they will revisit a debate over guns.

West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat who co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to expand background checks after Newtown, said the votes for his legislation simply weren’t there.

“That bill’s not going to come up unless Republicans vote for it,” he told reporters Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Manchin said he still believed that his proposal, which he co-authored with Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, was “pure, common gun sense”.

“It’s not gun control,” Manchin said. “I don’t think there’s a law-abiding gun owner that doesn’t believe that someone who has been mentally adjudicated or been criminally adjudicated shouldn’t be able to get a gun. I really believe that. And that’s all we’re trying to do.”

An overwhelming majority of Americans support the universal background checks bill, which fell victim to a Republican-led filibuster two years ago. Arizona senator John McCain, one of just four Republicans who voted for the Manchin-Toomey bill after the Newtown shooting, said he didn’t expect to see the background checks bill – or anything else pertaining to guns, for that matter – resurface.

“Frankly, with all the things that are going on right now, I don’t see anything real soon on this issue,” McCain told the Guardian in the Senate hallway.

McCain added, nonetheless, that he still supported the Manchin-Toomey proposal.

“There’s no reason not to,” he said.

Murphy implored lawmakers to do the same, or at the very least to start talking about ways to better protect Americans.

“There is a deafening silence coming from Congress,” he said. “Our silence is becoming complicity in these murders.”

 

By: Sabrina Siddiqui, The Guardian, July 29, 2015

July 31, 2015 Posted by | Background Checks, Congress, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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